In this article, Lalsangkima Pachuau responds to contemporary accusations in India that Christian missionaries are forcing conversions, and thereby turning Indians away from their culture. While the Indian Constitution guarantees the right to "propagate" religion, and therefore to accept the movement from one religion (e.g. Hinduism) to another (e.g. Christianity), what is important to understand that "conversion" is not primarily a call to move from one religion to another--much less to abandon one's culture--but is a movement away from self and the "world" toward God. Conversion understood as "changing religions" is much more the product of seventeenth and eighteenth century evangelicalism than it is a true understanding of the Bible. Mission is always about conversion, and entails the invitation to enter the Christian community; such invitation, however, should always be distinguished from a proselytism that only focuses on a change of religious allegiance.
Closer proximity through powerful communication systems seems to have made people more assertive of their identities, especially their cultural or ethnic identities. The consciousness of the cultural self and the cultural other has become one of the most important political tools in the societal life. Ethnic identity assertions have been blamed as the cause of much dissensions and violence. In dealing with ethnic relations, scholars have found that the proximate other is the most difficult other to deal with. Is identity assertion then the enemy of reconciliation? This article argues that it need not be. By arguing that identity is a relational entity formed in the consciousness of the self in relation to the other (non-self), a healthy and respectful way of perceiving the other can be cultivated. A truthful recognition of the otherness of the other leads to what theologian Miroslav Volf calls "double vision" (the ability to view not only "from here" but also "from there") which is the essential step to "embrace" the other. Christian mission is about crossing the boundary between the self and the other, and the challenge is to love the neighbor (proximate other) as oneself. Self-privileging through self-consciousness of being the elect of God withheld the Christian sense of its missionary nature for a long time. The Church's missionary calling of being other-centered rather than being self-centered is the theological foundation for a conciliatory existence.